How do Program Directors choose who to interview?

How do Program Directors choose who to interview?
Medical school is winding down, summer is nearing and so is the opening of ERAS, NRMP’s Main Match Electronic Residency Application System. The next question on medical students’ minds is 'how do program directors choose who to interview? And is there anything else I can do to improve my application?'

Based on the 2014 NRMP Program Director Survey the top 5 factors for choosing which applicants to interview are: 

USMLE Step 1 Score:
94% of program directors ranked USMLE Step 1 score as a highly important factor in their decision making it a critical component of a medical student’s residency application. Programs directors like to see competitive scores with 0 attempts. What if you have multiple attempts or low scores? Don’t give up! Even though the USMLE Step 1 score is one of the most important factors for interview selection you can make up for this by gaining US clinical experience (USCE). Obtaining a hands-on externship or a research position under a program director at a residency-based hospital, you have the opportunity to prove your skills and professionalism to a program director.

Letters of recommendation in the specialty:
Letters of recommendation (LORs) are heavily weighted when Program Directors are choosing which applicants to interview. Strong LORs, specific to the specialty you are applying to, stand out compared to generic and impersonal letters. As a foreign or international medical school graduate (FMG or IMG) having LORs from US physicians will greatly enhance your application.

Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE):
In recent years Program Directors have begun to weigh the Medical School Performance Evaluation (MSPE) much more when considering applicants to interview. In 2012 the NRMP Program Director Survey reported than only 68% of program directors factored in the MSPE when selecting candidates. However, last year 84% of PDs took the MSPE into consideration when selecting candidates! 

USMLE Step 2 Score:
A student's Step 2 CK score is also a critical component of the ERAS application. In fact, some program directors hold Step 2 CK in higher regard than Step 1. Step 2 evaluates an applicant’s clinical knowledge, so it is no surprise that Program Directors heavily consider this score when determining which applicants to interview. A competitive Step 2 score is particularly important for IMGs and FMGs for it shows they have a clear understanding of US clinical procedures and protocols. An applicant can often times offset a low step 1 score by improving on their Step 2 CK score. 

Personal Statement:
The Personal Statement gives applicants the opportunity to set themselves apart from other applicants and is therefore another aspect of the application program directors value when selecting candidates to interview. According to one of our Program Directors on staff, "The Personal Statement can be a great tool to connect with the potential resident when I cannot see them physically. Of course academia will weigh heavily, but the Personal Statement can be an excellent opportunity to explain any gaps in your CV, your specific and unique talents, any discrepancies…or just to connect with the resident or PD interviewing you. In healthcare we are looking for well-rounded individuals who are not only great on paper but can be empathetic, compassionate…knowing their personal story many times can help us get a feel for that."

Program Director Interview Factors